Ten must-see sites for France’s ‘Heritage days’

Once a year France opens the doors on tonnes of fascinating, bizarre and important places that are generally closed to the public. Here are 10 things not to miss this weekend for ‘Heritage days’.

Ten must-see sites for France’s 'Heritage days'
Here's 10 things not to miss for this weekend's 'Journées du Patrimoine'. Photo: AFP

For the most part free of charge, some 10 million people will get a chance poke around inside some of the country's most interesting sites this weekend (Sept. 21-22) as part of the annual heritage days (Journées du Patrimoine).

While it may be interesting to get a look at some of the popular attractions like the Senate and the Elysée Palace (the president’s home), there are a string of odd and incredible sites to take in as well.

Here are 10 fascinating places not to miss for this year’s Jounées du Patrimoine (Heritage days):

World’s oldest basketball court: Designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s architecture students, the court hosted Europe’s first basketball game in 1893.

It is now considered the world’s oldest. At the YMCA on Rue de Trévise in Paris’s 9th arrondissement.

France’s first nuke reactor: "La pile Zoé" was built in record time and activated in 1948 on the grounds of a fort as the country’s first atomic reactor. 

It was shut down in 1977, so to take advantage of a rare visit, head to the Route du Panorama, in Fontenay-aux-Roses, outside of Paris.

Hidden clocktower: Towering some 67 metres above the ground, and with its four dials measuring 6.5 metres across, the clock offers an impressive view over the French capital. 

At the Gare de Lyon train station on Place Louis Armand in Paris’s 12th arrondissement.

Parisian bunker: Built to protect French fighters at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and stretching 75 metres underground, at Les Grandes Friches you will be able to experience the eerie feel of walking in one of the concrete bunkers still hidden in the Notre-Dame forest.

It's in Forêt Notre-Dame in Lésigny, ouside of Paris.

Archeology up close: Excavated since 1964, the Pincevent site has become particularly known for its early modern human remains, such as stone artifacts, found there.

It's near the town of Montereau-Fault-Yonne.

Secret garden: Take a step back in time by visiting the Ferme Mazier that used to provide Paris’s main markets with cabbage, beetroots, carrots and other vegetables.

Described as an oasis in  the city, it can be found on Rue Heurtault and Rue Edgar-Quinet in Aubervilliers, outside of Paris.

Creepy museum: This Hôpital Saint-Louis – Musée des Moulages Dermatologiques (Dematalogical Museum) hosts four collections of nauseatingly realistic wax casts of different types of skin diseases.

The museum, which is located on Avenue Claude-Vellefaux in Paris’s 10th arrondissement, has more than 4,800 casts.

Water temple: Built between the 16th and 17th centuries, and extended during the 18th, these Roman-style underground aqueducts provide a fascinating look at how human's have tried to make sure they have enough water.

This one's on Rue de la Fontaine in Mennecy.

Vintage Citroëns: If you’re a car buff, what better place to spend the day than at the Citroën museum? 

Hosting more than 300 rare cars with makes dating as far back as 1919, including the Paris-Dakar Race winner ZX Rallye Raid. At PSA Peugeot Citroën, Bâtiment Conservatoire, on Boulevard André-Citroën in Aulnay-sous-Bois.

Don't forget this visit requires you to reserve a spot

PMs offices: Where does French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his cabinet hang out all day? 

Find out by walking around the Hôtel de Matignon located on Rue de Varenne in Paris’s 7th arrondissment.

By : Louise Nordstrom

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Why making Paris’ Sacré-Cœur a historic monument is causing a stir

More than a century after its completion, the iconic basilica is set to get official recognition equal to that of the Notre Dame and the Louvre museum. But its bloody past is making the decision a controversial one - even today.

Why making Paris' Sacré-Cœur a historic monument is causing a stir
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is one of France's most popular tourist attractions. Photo: AFP

French authorities this week launched the process to turn the famed building into a listed moment, exactly 100 years since it was consecrated in 1919.


The basilica draws some 10 million visitors a year and has become the most-visited edifice since the blaze left the Notre Dame tarnished in 2019, regional authorities said.

Yet, it lacks the same official status as the cathedral.

“The Sacré-Coeur is one of the symbols of Paris. But, as astonishing as it seems, it is not protected as a historic monument,” said Laurent Roturier, head of the Paris region's cultural affairs, in a press statement published on their website.

“[We] wanted to give this building the recognition it deserves with regard to its architectural quality.”

Why has it taken so long?

Notre Dame became a listed historic monument in 1862, and the Louvre museum in 1889.

That it took more than a century from the first stone was laid back in 1875 until the Sacré-Coeur soon would be able to claim the same title, is in large part due to its bloody history.

The monument is associated with the ‘’bloody week’’ of May 1871, when a radical left-wing group known as the Paris Commune rebelled against the government.

In a bloody battle the anti-monarchist rebels executed many of their hostages, including two French generals, on the Montmartre hill, precisely where the Sacré-Cœur stands today.

“These quarrels are behind us but have delayed the protection process,” Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot told French media this week.

The other reason, she said, was that for a long time it was seen as an eyesore, reflecting widespread “disdain for 19th century buildings”.

The culture minister was referring to that some find the Sacré-Cœur, which has been nicknamed the “Alabaster Wedding Cake”, ugly.

Back in the day when it was built, famous French author Emile Zola expressed his disdain for the basilica in his book Paris, calling it a “slap in the face of reason” that was “built to glorify the absurd.”

A bit more close to our time, some “anti-Sacré-Cœur” militants have asked for it to be demolished, comparing it to a “wart”.

But, considered its high visiting numbers, it seems that most tourists and French enjoy the views of the building. And, with its soon-to-come official recognition, they will be able to do so for a long time to come.